SANIBEL, Fla. — Hurricane Ian changed the environment we live in, but also the environment around us.
Sanibel has freshwater lakes that are now salt water, and dead vegetation is scattered across the island. This is leading to alligators becoming active and visible. Some residents say they're a little more aggressive in nature, too.
Naturalist Ranger Rob Howell saying the upcoming mating season and the aftermath of Hurricane Ian are to blame.
“Because of that big storm, now we have the perfect storm for seeing gator behavior,” said Howell.
Howell says the hurricane changed the environment on Sanibel, including the creation of more saltwater lakes leading to less food and habitat for alligators on the island.
“If these fish are dying because of the pollution or the salinity changes, they can’t find food,” said Howell. “So, they are going to start looking around in new areas and territories and trying to find better places to live”
And not only are the alligators looking for new habitats, but they are also quickly coming up on mating season.
“This is the time of year where the moms might have a few babies from last year, so they are going to be a little more on edge with the new males walking around. Males are starting to look for females, so it is courtship season,” said Howell. “They are being big and burly, and they are starting to make their calls and try and find females and territories to protect and defend. So, they can then have their mating season. Then following after that, the mom looking over the nest.”
So, on top of this being a busy time of year for alligators, now throw in a major hurricane just six months ago.
Many people have come to our area to help clean up, but may not know how to live with alligators. That was seen firsthand in December, when an alligator attacked a worker from Arkansas who was washing his hands in a pond.
“You got to think if you are going down to this water and splashing, you are making the same sounds as the prey items as these animals, so it is going to attracted them,” said Howell.
With the increased activity and visibility of Alligators, Howell has a few tips on to keep you and the alligators safe.
“If you can’t see the bottom presume there are gators in it. It’s Florida,” said Howell.
Howell adds, “If you have a small pet. Stay 10 to 20 feet away from the water. I know some of the paths are closer. That means if you are walking a pet, walk it on the other side, like you would walk your girlfriend or boyfriend on the opposite side of traffic, because it's a danger. Same kind of thing out here.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has their own set of tips:
- Keep your distance if you see an alligator
- Keep your pets on a leash and away from the water edge
- Swim only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours and without your pet.
- Never feed an alligator. It is illegal and can lead to alligators losing their natural wariness of people.
FWC also says if you are concerned at all about an alligator, you can call their toll-free Nuisance Gator Hotline. That number is 866-FWC-GATO (866-392-4286).